Lenore Davis, Mother of Hunter Zen; Founder of The Healing Hunter Foundation and Lightning Cupcakes & Cakes

Editor's Note:  The story you are about to read is about a mother and her fierce and unwavering love for her son. The decision to post it during Christmas week was a thoughtful one.  Here is a mother who, despite having the ultimate tragedy thrown her way, remains one of the most joyful people I have ever met.  Her love for her son moves mountains, and that devotion and passion has translated into her work and the projects she has taken on in his memory.  There is no Q&A at the end of this profile because their story is enough.  What you will find are links to where you can donate to her amazing organizations and their fun, spirited events; and also sign-up for the national bone marrow registry, which I assure you is so easy to do and so…so important.  Thank you for reading, and have a happy, joyful holiday.

Portrait of Lenore and Hunter / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Portrait of Lenore and Hunter / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Hunter Zen Thawley was born into love.

"Sometimes, when I think of the fact that I only had 3 years with him, I start to question whether I should have done things differently," his mom told me.

Oh Lenore, I thought to myself. The life you gave Hunter? It was MAGIC.

"Hunter Zen, our lil' love.  Born Sept. 21, 2006.  This sweet boy changed our lives forever." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Hunter Zen, our lil' love.  Born Sept. 21, 2006.  This sweet boy changed our lives forever." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

The first son of Lenore and Zen, Hunter was brought into the world on a perfect September day. 

We had both wanted a boy so badly and we were so excited. I truly remember every second of his birth, Jack Johnson was playing in the background and it all went extremely smooth.

They decided on the name Hunter because it felt powerful.  His middle name, Zen, was a tribute to his father and described him perfectly.

He was this cool, mellow baby. He went everywhere with us…I would carry him with me to photo shoots in a backpack.
Hunter Zen, 6 months old. / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Hunter Zen, 6 months old. / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Lenore and Zen worked together, Zen was a photographer and Lenore was a makeup artist.  Hunter was their sidekick, strapped to his momma’s back every single day. 

Wow, was he lucky, I thought.  For the three short years he had on this earth, his family was never apart, and he was exactly where he wanted to be.

He was always cheerful, he was always pleasant, it’s not like he was ever a complainer, he was just a trooper and he seemed to enjoy what we were doing. He would just go with the flow.
"This was on our engagement shoot in the Hollywood Hills one month before we got married.  Hunter is almost a year in this pic.  We absolutely adored him and his fantastic energy." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"This was on our engagement shoot in the Hollywood Hills one month before we got married.  Hunter is almost a year in this pic.  We absolutely adored him and his fantastic energy." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

His first fourteen months were a dream.  He witnessed his parents unwavering love for each other on their wedding day and hit all his first-year milestones.  He took his first steps, he was constantly laughing, the whole world would stop when he started dancing, and this boy knew how to dance!

There was nothing…absolutely nothing…that gave his parents any cause for concern.

"Hunter Zen 9 months old.  Content.  Chillin'.  Beating on his lil' drum to any lil' beat he could find" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Hunter Zen 9 months old.  Content.  Chillin'.  Beating on his lil' drum to any lil' beat he could find" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

When he got sick it was very clear, it was almost instant. There was just such a difference in his being. This brilliant light that he was every morning waking up…it was just gone.

Lenore and Zen went back and forth to the pediatrician, trying to pinpoint the sudden and drastic change in their child.  For weeks the doctors couldn’t determine why Hunter was so ill, thinking he might have stomach flu or some other seasonal virus.

After several visits, our pediatrician said to us ‘clearly there is something wrong if you are still this concerned. I am not finding anything with the tests and exams I’ve completed, but based on your concern, let’s get him admitted.’
"Not loving this day...at ALL" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Not loving this day...at ALL" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Hunter was admitted to a local hospital in Los Angeles and they immediately dove right in taking blood, x-rays, scans, the works.  Hunter, who was only a little over a year at the time, didn’t fight any of it, he was too weak.

Because we had our own photography business, both Zen and I were with him the entire time, which made a huge difference for him as well as for us. It went from being this fantastic life of being busy photographers with this baby that went everywhere with us, to let’s hunker down, we’re in the hospital and something is seriously wrong, but they don’t know what it is.
"Shortly after diagnosis.  He's receiving his first round of chemo in this pic.  Bright light distinguished" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Shortly after diagnosis.  He's receiving his first round of chemo in this pic.  Bright light distinguished" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

After nearly two weeks of testing, the doctors had found what was causing Hunter’s severe symptoms, Acute Myeloid Leukemia that was living in his bone marrow. 

Neither of us had ever had any firsthand experience with this type of Leukemia, so Zen went into research mode and I went into game-on mode. Zen told me ‘this is not good…this is going to be a hard fight’ and I kept saying back ‘it’s okay, there are survivors! There are survivors and we’re going to have to bank on that.’
"This was going to be our 'normal' for the next 2.5 years." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"This was going to be our 'normal' for the next 2.5 years." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

For three months they lived in the hospital, alternating sleeping with him every night, with doctors and nurses coming in every two hours to monitor their child.  

When they finally were allowed to go home, they had to bounce back and forth from the hospital to their home, administering chemo that would break down his body to kill the cancerous cells.  They had to do this over and over again, breaking down his tiny body, only to build it back up again so they could administer another round of chemo with new cancer-fighting drugs.

"After a few rounds of chemo and another Bone Marrow Aspirate to check for any signs of the disease.  More rounds of chemo still to come. " / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"After a few rounds of chemo and another Bone Marrow Aspirate to check for any signs of the disease.  More rounds of chemo still to come. " / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

A bone marrow transplant was an option, but they told us if we could avoid that we should because it could be very life-threatening and had all sorts of side effects like organ damage and liver failure. They were hopeful that they could cure the cancer with the six rounds of chemo.
"Hunter going in for a Bone Scan at Children's Hospital, Los Angeles."  / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Hunter going in for a Bone Scan at Children's Hospital, Los Angeles."  / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

It was a grueling, torturous process.  The constant blood draws with needles, Lenore said, were necessary, but at some point his tiny veins couldn’t take it anymore.

I don’t think your body is quite trained to experience what goes on when your child has cancer, so I think it takes awhile for your mind to wrap around what’s really happening.
"Signs of Hunter!  Started seeing some smiles again after the treatment started killing cancer cells!" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Signs of Hunter!  Started seeing some smiles again after the treatment started killing cancer cells!" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Lenore, like her son, has a light that radiates from within.  She says that this is how she coped, she made it her mission to fill his days with as much wonder and beauty as possible.

Everything was about him…our whole life became about him and what was important to him. Our whole purpose became about making this process less painful and brightening his days any way we could.
"Mommy's Time to snuggle with the bean." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Mommy's Time to snuggle with the bean." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Hunter felt this energy emanating from his parents.  He would look at them deeply, observing them and drawing strength and calmness from them.  In fact, when strangers would meet Hunter for the first time they would almost always mention that Hunter was an “old soul”.  It’s almost as if he knew what he was up against, and was willing to fight.

I never, ever thought we were going to lose him. It was not an option…I couldn’t even let my mind go there. We had to fight, we had to fight for him to do this, and all we could do is support him and encourage him and love him….and try to get him through this.
"In REMISSION!!!  WaHOO! No traces of disease were found after 6 rounds of chemo and we were set free to go live our life!" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"In REMISSION!!!  WaHOO! No traces of disease were found after 6 rounds of chemo and we were set free to go live our life!" / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Eight months later, after six rounds of chemo, there was no sign of cancer in Hunter’s body and he was considered in remission and “cancer-free.”  Lenore and Zen were able to take a breath and regroup, and decided they were ready for a fresh start and would move their family from their home in Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon.

It was right after we moved that Hunter started spiking fevers of 103 degrees. We’d go back to the pediatrician and everyone was so hopeful…wanting it to not be the cancer, administering antibiotics hoping that they’d work.

When it became clear his fevers weren’t subsiding, their pediatrician decided to do additional tests which found that the cancer had come back.  The family moved into Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, setting up camp for another fight for Hunter’s life.

"Hunter after his relapse.  The cancer had returned and it was now time to prepare his sweet lil' body for his bone marrow transplant." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Hunter after his relapse.  The cancer had returned and it was now time to prepare his sweet lil' body for his bone marrow transplant." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Hunter endured even more rounds of chemo, one of which was experimental.  He went through several blood transfusions and total body irradiation.  And finally, he went through a bone marrow transplant.  He was only two years old.

You feel like you’re in the twilight zone, thinking ‘this is not happening.’ It’s insane. It’s insane what goes on. And we kept thinking ‘okay, this is working…something has got to be working. It’s this panic, trying to keep your child alive, all the while watching the cancer take over his body and his light. Knowing you have to witness that…there’s a shift of how you view life, and love, and family, and My God, you wonder, what’s going to happen?
"This is one day before we were told we were going to lose him.  We were actually at the coast celebrating him and his life and all the the wonderful things we were going to have ahead of us." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"This is one day before we were told we were going to lose him.  We were actually at the coast celebrating him and his life and all the the wonderful things we were going to have ahead of us." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

After two and a half years of fiercely fighting this horrific disease, Hunter’s battle ended. 

His final moments were just as beautiful as when he was brought into this world. 

His mother, who held him as he took his first breath, held him as he took his last.  His parents bathed him, they talked to him, they held him close for the entire night.  Just like the three beautiful years he was given by his parents on earth, he was never, ever alone.  

"Days before we lost our lil' love and our lives changed forever." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Days before we lost our lil' love and our lives changed forever." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

From that moment on, not having him with us, we kept asking ‘did this really just happen to us? Is he really gone? He was truly our life, we did everything for him, and now there was this huge void that was impossible to fill.

Lenore was also grappling with the fact that she was four months pregnant, and as any parent knows, was already completely overwhelmed with bringing another child into this world even without the trauma she had just endured.

I just remember feeling so relieved that I still had five more months with this child in my belly so I had five months where all I had to do was grieve and think of Hunter, and remember him, and mourn him. And not that that stopped when my second son Ryder was born, but the blessings of another child…he was a miracle.
"His Foundation logo and every word that describes his spectacular lil' being." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"His Foundation logo and every word that describes his spectacular lil' being." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

It was their opportunity, Lenore says, to start a family again and simply ‘see where it goes’.

Ryder was huge in the healing process and I think we realized how fortunate we were to have another child.

They also relied deeply on each other, strengthening their marriage through the tragedy and not letting it draw them apart.

Zen had been there with me to experience all the things I had to experience with the x-rays and the bone scans and the poking of the needles and having to hold him down a couple times, I couldn’t imagine ever being with anyone else who didn’t have these same memories. Zen has always been great about showing emotion, so if I collapsed in the kitchen he would ask me ‘what are you thinking about? Tell me, because I want to think about it too—I want to think about him and feel him…’ we could tell just by looking at each other…it would always be about Hunter.
"Hunter and Zen snuggling is his bed at the hospital.  The helmet is to keep his head safe when he was low on platelets.  A lil' knock or cut on the head would like to be prevented, and he was having to learn how to walk all over again because of the way the chemo broke down is lil' body.  So tumbles happened often." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

"Hunter and Zen snuggling is his bed at the hospital.  The helmet is to keep his head safe when he was low on platelets.  A lil' knock or cut on the head would like to be prevented, and he was having to learn how to walk all over again because of the way the chemo broke down is lil' body.  So tumbles happened often." / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

As life continued marching on, Lenore and Zen, completely in love with their new baby and coping amidst a deep sea of grief, started realizing that anniversaries of Hunter—his birthday, his death, and so on—we’re looming.

You start to fear those days…thinking ‘oh, he’d be this age’ and every year, you think he’d be eight, he’d be nine…and you’d wonder, what would it be like to have a nine-year-old???’ I just thought, we have to do something…I don’t want to go and sob somewhere, we need to do something that changes that day for us.

And so, the Healing Hunter Foundation was born.   Their first year, they brought toys to the hospital that treated Hunter.  When the community caught wind of their project they rallied around them, sending donations and gift certificates and toys upon toys upon toys.  Quickly, Lenore realized that this foundation had the potential to become so much more.

Lenore prepping to deck out the children's hospital for the holidays / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Lenore prepping to deck out the children's hospital for the holidays / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

I felt like if there was a holiday that brought me an immense amount of sadness, I had to find a way to sprinkle a little joy in there and find a way to smile that day. And most importantly, it had to be related to Hunter.

Lenore found herself making several trips back to the hospital throughout the year; Easter, Christmas, Hunter’s Birthday, and her donation pile continued to grow.

At one point, she decided to throw in a treat for the doctors and nurses, homemade cupcakes.

They loved them and started calling us to see if we could make cupcakes for a baby shower or a birthday party, so I thought ‘huh…maybe we should start making cupcakes for kid’s cancer and have little sales here and there.’
Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Their cupcake shop, aptly named “Lightning Cupcakes” after Hunter’s passionate love for Lightning McQueen from the movie Cars, took off. Phone calls started coming in with even more requests for more cupcakes.  There was this whole little world forming, Lenore says, all around Hunter. 

On Hunter’s birthday that year, Lenore did something she could have never imagined—she filed to make Lightning Cupcakes and The Healing Hunter Foundation official, a perfect birthday gift, she says, for her little man. 

Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Since then, Lenore’s two professional passions have made incredible strides.

On Hunter’s birthday every year, every child battling cancer admitted into the two local children’s hospitals receives an iPad Mini.  This past fall, Hunter’s 5-star cupcakery made cupcakes pro-bono for another cancer fighter’s memorial service.  And every Christmas, she and her team turn the children’s Oncology Unit of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital into a magical place, with over-the-top decorations, “santa sack” gift-bags, and a momentary distraction from their brave and courageous fight.

It’s such an amazing thing that I get to do that makes me think of him constantly…and it’s always a good thing now. He’s been gone for six years and there are so many incredible things that I can think about that have happened because of him. These things have saved me…being able to honor the memory of Hunter in such a magnificent and powerful and impactful way, it’s truly saved me.
Hunter's mama, Baking with love / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

Hunter's mama, Baking with love / Photo Courtesy Lenore Davis

To continue spreading Hunter’s love, please consider the following:

DONATE to The Healing Hunter Foundation

PURCHASE cupcakes from Lightning Cupcakes, if you are in the Portland area.

SIGN-UP for the National Bone Marrow Registry  

 

Next week, on DRIVEN for Women, remember our very first profile with Leila, the A-List Celebrity Stylist?  Remember the boss she mentioned, that fired her and subsequently changed her career?  Well, we've done our due diligence and interviewed her to get her side of the story on the "dreaded incident."  Oh, and did we mentioned that she is also the Editorial Director of Tommy Hilfiger?  Meet Kim Friday, she's up next on DRIVEN for Women.

Don't Forget To Follow Us and Support Our Incredible Women!